Much has been written in the last several years about the advances in access to mental health care as a result of federal mental health parity laws. These legislative reforms affect individuals and families with private health insurance coverage. While I certainly applaud any reforms that remove restrictions for pre-existing conditions and mandates that mental health conditions be treated with the same level of coverage as physical conditions, much work still needs to be done.
Inadequate provider networks
With this thought in mind, during the month of January Care For Your Mind (CFYM) invites its readers to consider a need for “Practical” Parity. In the January 13 post, Carolyn Beauchamp, President of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey asks, “If access is lacking, do we have mental health parity?” In this informative post, Ms. Beauchamp shares the results of a survey conducted in New Jersey that reveals how difficult it can be to obtain a new appointment with a psychiatrist due to incorrect contact information and an unwillingness of doctors to accept new patients.
The conversation continued on January 20 with Dr. Phillip Muskin, professor at Columbia University, asking “How can we achieve mental health parity if there are not enough practicing psychiatrists?” This post shares concrete suggestions on how to address this shortage and the CFYM editors provide specific calls to action that all of us can take to create awareness among public policy decision makers who are in a position to enact solutions.
However, we should not only rely on our elected officials to bring about legislative and public policy changes that address narrow provider networks in health insurance plans. If we are going to achieve ‘practical’ parity, we must have the courage to hold our employers accountable for workplace benefits that place mental health conditions on equal footing with physical conditions.
In the January 27 CFYM post, Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio provides a blueprint for a model employer behavioral health benefits program. Mr. Dolan-Del Vecchio shares that Prudential Financial, Inc. “knows the health of a workforce is intrinsically linked to the health of the organization.” As a result of this philosophy, Prudential reviews the mental health provider network offered by their insurance plans. An internal team identifies highly effective providers, verifies their contact information and even finds ways to facilitate their in-network inclusion if it is learned that the provider is out-of-network.
Like many workplace organizations, Prudential offers an Employee Assistance Program. But Prudential takes this concept one step further by offering onsite mental health services at its largest employee locations.
Ask the tough questions
In the words of Mr. Dolan-Del Vecchio, “employees should not hesitate to ask what behavioral health assistance is available through employer-sponsored insurance or through the employer itself.”
This is a call to action for all of us. As all good advocates know, “if you don’t ask, the answer is always, no.”
It’s time for us to all start asking our providers why they are not in-network. Our insurance carriers why their provider networks are inadequate, and our employers why they are not holding the insurance companies they give their business to accountable.